Name: Charles Harold W. Read, Jr. 
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force 
Unit: 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron                             
Udorn Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 03 February 1929
Home of Record: Miami, FL
Date of Loss: 24 August 1968 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 174000N 1062400E (XE456547)
Click coordinates to view(4) maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Melvin E. Ladewig (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  The F4 Phantom II was an all-weather jet fighter/bomber which was frequently called upon to perform a variety of tasks to include air-to-air missions against hostile aircraft, air-to-ground strikes in support of friendly troops, "fast moving" forward air control for air and ground operations, photo reconnaissance and armed reconnaissance missions. Phantoms were flown by various services in Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1974, with the first US Air Force F4's arriving in 1966.

The North Vietnamese railroad system consisted of nine segments, the most important parts of which were north of the 20th parallel. Almost 80% of the major targets were in this area laced together by the rail system. The most important contribution of the system was to move the main fighting weapons from China to redistribution centers at Kep, Hanoi, Haiphong, Nam Dinh, Thanh Hoa and Dong Hoi. These supplies were further distributed by trucks and boats to designated collection points where porters carried the weapons, food and ammunition on their final leg into the acknowledged war zone.

When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies.

On 24 August 1968, then  Major Charles H. W. Read, Jr., pilot; and  1st Lt. Melvin E. Ladewig, co-pilot; comprised the crew of the #2 aircraft in a flight of two that was conducting a night strike and armed reconnaissance mission over Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. The sector in which the flight operated was identified as "Tally Ho" and included the territory of North Vietnam from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to an imaginary line 30 miles north of the DMZ.

When the Phantoms approached the target area, Lead established radio contact with the airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC). After providing the flight with current mission information, the ABCCC handed the flight off to the Forward Air Controller (FAC) who would direct the strike mission.

At 2235 hours, the FAC directed the Phantoms onto a secondary target located in a densely populated and heavily defended NVA staging area for troops and supplies destined to enter the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the Ban Karai Pass. The Lead aircraft lit up the target with flares so the number two aircraft could make a second bomb run. According to the official record, "after making a bomb run on a target, the aircraft was seen as a large fireball on the ground."

The area in which the Phantom crashed was on the south edge of a heavily forested mountain less then 1 mile west of the Rao Nay River, approximately 2 miles west of a single-track railroad line, 3 miles north of Route 101 that turned into Route 137 before crossing into Laos, 21 miles northwest of Dong Hoi and 29 miles northeast of the Ban Karai Pass.

Immediately Lead transmitted a report to the ABCCC that they had had no radio contact with either Major Read or 1st Lt. Ladewig prior to the crash. They also stated that they did not see any parachutes or hear any emergency radio beepers emanating from the area of loss. All aircraft onsite conducted a visual and electronic search for the downed aircrew. When no sign of either man was found, the search was terminated and Charles Read and Melvin Ladewig were reported as Missing in Action.

Given the type of mission, the time of night, and the heavy enemy presence throughout the region, it was not uncommon for the other pilots not to see any parachutes or be able to establish any communication with a missing aircrew. If Charles Read and Melvin Ladewig died in the loss of the aircraft, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they were able to eject from their crippled fighter, they most certainly would have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.